Minimal Equipment Squat and Deadlift Workouts

Trapped in quarantine with no barbell? Keep your gains with these strategies for lower body training.

TL:DR Version

If you’re a trainer:

  • You can still make great training adaptations with a little thinking and appropriate periodization strategies. 

If you’re a powerlifter:

  • Just because you’re training from home with no barbell doesn’t mean all is lost. It’s a bit different from what you’re used to, but you can still preserve or gain muscle without barbell training.

Building on Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 of the Minimal Equipment workout series, we will be taking a look into some options for squat and deadlift training in this article while sticking with our running theme of having a couple bands, some books, and a backpack laying around.

Exercise Selection

Below are some ideas for common squat and deadlift exercises that can act as good replacements for barbell squat training.

  • Barbell Squat
    • Roller Hack Squats
    • Sissy Squats
    • Goblet Squats (If you have some heavier dumbbells available)
  • Quad accessories such as leg extensions, leg press, etc.
    • Sissy Squats
  • Speed Squat
    • Jump Squats vs Bands
  • Conventional Deadlift
    • Zercher Deadlift (using a backpack)
    • Band Pullthrough
    • Towel Deadlift Isometrics

  • Speed Deadlift
    • Banded Swings (using a backpack or duffel bag instead of a KB)
  • Romanian Deadlift
    • Banded Romanian Deadlift
  • While all of those exercises are good substitutions, I think that if load is your limiting factor in your ability to train hard, you should consider some single leg training as you can make a lot more out of a lot less equipment. While single leg work is traditionally viewed by powerlifters as injury rehab work –  maybe even injury prevention work at best – I firmly believe from my experience coaching both powerlifters and non-powerlifters that you can make tremendous strength and hypertrophy gains with properly programmed single leg training.The key with having good carryover to a powerlifting program is making sure that you can load the exercise appropriately without it becoming a giant balance exercise where the athlete keep wiggling around before they can do any quality reps.

For squat training, including movements such as rear foot elevated split squats, slideboard reverse lunges, and both feet elevated split squats are excellent options here. On top of being easier to load effectively compared to bilateral squat movements, BFR training is a shoe-in for unilateral lower body training.  For more information on workout structure for BFR training, take a look here

As for unilateral deadlift training, movements such as split stance RDLs or split stance good mornings are probably your best bet here. Zercher loading it will give you the most bang for buck as it creates a long lever arm which forces your hips and trunk to work harder with the same amount of weight. It’s worth mentioning that knee dominant hamstring training such as leg curls can be an invaluable training tool that often gets overlooked for deadlifts and even squats, to a degree.

Sample Workout #1

Lifter who is weak in the bottom of the squat and has a hip shift in the deadlift.

With our lifter in this example, we are prioritizing being able to generate tension at the bottom of the squat by adding a pause on the split squats. The hip shift in the deadlifts is addressed in a couple ways. First: we use the pattern that we are trying to train (deadlift) in a static hold to help the athlete feel their position and if they have any shift in pressure on the right vs left side of their body. Our second strategy is to train deadlifts one leg at a time in order to ensure there isn’t a strength imbalance from left to right, and following it up with some adductor work in order to strengthen the hips unilaterally and ensure symmetry.

Sample Workout #2

Lifter who is weak at lockout on deadlifts. 

For our second program, we prioritize hip extension strength (glutes and hamstrings) while also building up the lats in order to put the hips into a stronger position to lock out the deadlift.

General guidelines

  • Loading the lower body effectively requires a bit more creativity and variation from the regular powerlifts when available resistance is the limiting factor. 
  • Keep sessions focused and ensure you can justify why you have each movement in your program and how it will help your lifts once you’re back under a barbell.  

Hopefully, this gives you some ideas on constructing effective modified squat and deadlift workouts in order to keep the ball rolling with your training.